The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Liz Murray

Effective remote CPD: principles, planning and lessons learned

A wealth of free opportunities can result in overwhelm. Liz Murray shares how a return to principles has enabled effective CPD planning for her team.

At the time of writing we are seven weeks into school disruption due to the coronavirus lockdown. Like most school leaders, my first priority was to ensure robust and ongoing support for students and their families. Second priority my team: their wellbeing and maximising this prime opportunity for development.

Like many others, I recognised that opportunities for CPD could support professionals’ wellbeing while working from home and suggested that this was a good opportunity for practitioners to take advantage of the flexibility of partial school closure to do so.

Balancing opportunities and overwhelm

Certainly the CPD opportunities have been immense and exciting. Over the weeks there have been opportunities for free webinars, online courses, and brilliant resources to read often curated by other dedicated professionals.

This is all excellent and if managed well by the school and the individual, there is so much to gain. However, after an afternoon down the CPD internet rabbit hole, I realised that with so much out there, there was a risk of colleagues becoming overwhelmed. 

Back to first principles

I reflected that the opportunities must be framed within school goals and be consistent with the principles of effective CPD and revisited a seminal text that I have recommended to many SENCOs and leaders: The SENCo Handbook by Cowne, E., Frankl, C., & Gerschel, L. (2015).

  1. Leaders recognise the importance of investment in a highly motivated and skilled workforce.’ (Cowne et al, 2015, p.10).
  2. Effective leaders must consider how to enable participation...[to] create ownership. (Cowne et al, 2015, p.10).

The importance of ‘ownership’ is also reinforced by the research of Bubb & Earley where they examined some features of staff development in ‘outstanding’ schools. They found that schools that were successful valued and developed everyone: ‘staff were motivated to identify and seize opportunities and showed initiative in doing so...’ (Bubb, 2010, p.9). 

Reframing the goals

With these principles firmly in mind, I attempted to reframe the CPD for my teaching assistant team as follows.

  • Everything that TAs are encouraged to complete is clearly aligned with whole school and department goals.
  • Where possible TAs should join teachers in training sessions but only if relevant to their roles. Every TA is also supported to develop a working from home focus.
  • Opportunities to participate, discuss, debrief and collaborate on actions post-CPD are as important as the CPD itself. This develops ownership.

In busy school life it can be challenging to deliver training to the whole team at once, so this was a golden opportunity

Preparation and in practice

Useful discussions with the team who were preparing CPD for teachers helped to identify opportunities for integrated training and where it might be better to focus on specific training just for TAs. I was keen to invest time and energy into a programme that could develop TA knowledge and practice. In busy school life it can be challenging to deliver training to the whole team at once, so this was a golden opportunity.

What does it look like in practice?

Week Focus Outcome
1 Join whole school training on using Teams. TAs empowered to use previously unfamiliar technology. Essential knowledge for remote working which they can use immediately.
2 Lego Therapy; webinar delivered by a speech and language therapist designed specifically for our SEN team. A newly formed ‘Communication Team’ taking the lead on refreshing the approach to our Lego Therapy programme.
3 An own choice focus linked to an area of interest or responsibility (more on this later). To link with WFH focus and encourage buy in, ownership and motivation.
4 Vocabulary training resources; same materials as teachers provided by the literacy coordinator. TAs feel included and valued. Follow up from literacy coordinator to ask their views on the training has supported this.
5 Attachment training and strategies for the secondary classroom; webinar delivered by our in-house educational psychologist for teachers and TAs in line with whole school goals. Scheduled discussion regarding development of strategies and interventions.
6 Pre-Teaching Vocabulary; webinar designed and delivered by SENCO and Speech and Language Therapist for our SEN team. Pre-teaching vocabulary intervention materials are being designed for September.


Whereas we haven’t formally evaluated the CPD sessions, the feedback from those delivered so far has been positive. The team have appreciated the chance to be able to ask questions and to ‘be together’ in a virtual space. The post-CPD discussions have resulted in actions that colleagues are empowered to take forward.

This tailored approach also seems to be encouraging others to demonstrate initiative as two of our TAs who have been collaborating on a ‘working from home’ focus have developed a presentation for the rest of our team which they will deliver as an additional training session.

Own choice CPD

Wading through CPD options can take up an inordinate amount of time. Mindful of individual circumstances and demands on time from many directions, I wanted to develop a comprehensive list for teachers and TAs which were clearly in line with school goals, but which cut out the guesswork. 

I identified training which was relevant for our school and in line with our development planning and organised the information as follows.

  • Area of focus
  • Type of CPD
  • Who it is aimed at
  • Time required
  • Rating (this adds a personal touch and colleagues can add to this as they complete training)

The CPD overview document can be accessed for free at

Lessons learned and top tips for effective remote CPD

  • Invest time and consider creating some bespoke CPD experiences.
  • Schedule time for post-CPD debriefs.
  • Encourage ownership and initiative.
  • Frame online CPD opportunities and include a variety of options to accommodate those colleagues who may have less time, due to dependents at home.
  • Be mindful of wellbeing; better to make CPD optional but do ‘give permission’ to colleagues to embrace it in their working hours. So many teachers ‘do CPD’ in their own time normally.

Further Reading

  • The SENCo Handbook, Cowne, E., Frankl, C., & Gerschel, L. (2015)
  • Effective Practices in Continuing Professional Development, Earley, P., & Porritt, V. (2010)
  • Helping Staff Develop in Schools, Bubb, S. (2010)

Resources to support your school community

Optimus Education has made a number of resources freely available to schools, including two in-house CPD training courses, primary curriculum homework projects and parental engagement frameworks.

Access the free resources



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